America Is Undemocratic While Puerto Rico Remains a Colony


That word —colony— strikes many Americans as hyperbolic, but it’s accurate. While Puerto Ricans have some measure of self-government, the Constitution affords Congress plenary power over Puerto Rico. The infamously racist Insular Cases, which remain the law of the land, define Puerto Rico as “a territory appurtenant and belonging to the United States, but not a part of the United States.”


Many Puerto Ricans believe that the solution to this undemocratic condition is statehood. Many others, like myself, disagree and see statehood as the ultimate victory of colonialism: the United States permanently annexing the nation it invaded in 1898 for the purposes of imperial expansion. Despite decades of political repression from the federal government and local leaders, and more than a century of U.S. rule that has fostered economic underdevelopment and dependence, there is growing movement for Puerto Rican sovereignty.

The fact that Puerto Ricans are divided on this issue has been a ready-made excuse for the inaction of U.S. leaders for decades. Why or how, the thinking still goes, should Americans do anything about it when Puerto Ricans can’t make up their minds? The division does not reflect mere indecisiveness, but is the product of a long and troubled history that has led some Puerto Ricans to reject the country that colonized us, some to embrace it, and has convinced still others that we can’t possibly live without it.


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